Ayodhya hearing — Let Govt acquire land, allow prayers in ASI mosques: Deal on table

Seema Chishti
It took about a month and “two or three meetings, both in Delhi and Chennai” to reach the proposed “settlement”. (File)

On the day the Supreme Court concluded the Ayodhya hearings, the court-appointed mediation team presented a proposal to the Constitution Bench, detailing contours of a “settlement” agreed upon by “some parties” to the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute.

The Indian Express has learnt that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad-controlled Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, the deity Ramlalla and six other Muslim parties which have filed appeals are not party to the proposed “settlement”, making it a partial, if not a weak deal.

The parties which are part of this proposed “settlement” are the Hindu Mahasabha, Akhil Bhartiya Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Punaruddhar Samiti, and Shri Mahant Rajendradas of the Nirmohi Ani Akhara.

The proposed “settlement” essentially centres around one of the Muslim parties, the Lucknow-based UP Sunni Central Waqf Board, which has agreed to a “no-objection” if the land on which the Babri Masjid once stood — at the centre of the row — is acquired by the central government.

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In return for the NOC by the Sunni Central Waqf Board chairman, the proposed “settlement” offers an institution for social harmony, ASI mosques being re-opened for namaz, repair of other Ayodhya mosques by the Centre and an alternate mosque of the Sunni Waqf Board.

It took about a month and “two or three meetings, both in Delhi and Chennai” to reach the proposed “settlement”, sources told The Indian Express.

The five-judge Constitution Bench, headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, is to meet in the chambers on Thursday morning. It has been learnt that this document, given to the court, will be an important point of discussion, and a decision will be taken on whether to make the proposed “settlement” public.

Advocates for the Sunni Waqf Board, however, said that “there has been no intimation, direction, email or any kind of message and no appeal or NOC has been filed by us”. Although word spread Wednesday morning that the Sunni Waqf Board had withdrawn from the title suit, it became clear during the day that no such statement had been made by the Waqf Board.

Timeline | When It Began: Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid Dispute

On September 30, 2010, the Allahabad High Court had ruled that the disputed land be partitioned equally between the Nirmohi Akhara, the Sunni Waqf Board and the deity Ramlalla Virajman. Fourteen appeals were heard by the Constitution Bench over 40 days in marathon sessions since August 6.

The mediation process, led by three court-appointed mediators, began in March but was deemed to have “failed” when CJI Gogoi said as much in court on seeing their final report. Day-to-day hearings in the matter started thereafter. The process got another lease of life once the CJI, on September 18, allowed mediation to resume, alongside the hearings in court. At that time, Sunni Waqf Board chairman Zufar Farooqui and Dharam Das of the Nirvani Akhara had written saying they wanted the process to be continued.

While the proposed “settlement” rests on five conditions to be honoured by claimants of the temple as a quid pro quo to the Sunni Waqf Board’s NOC, it is not clear who will “assure” implementation of these conditions. This becomes critical as the VHP-controlled Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas and Ramlalla Virajman are not a party to the proposed “settlement”.

Explained | How a waqf is created, and the laws that govern such properties

On the mosque side as well, Zufar Farooqui, who has agreed to offer the NOC, is only one of many appellants. He could not be reached for comments.

M R Shamshad, advocate-on-record for Iqbal Ansari, son of late Hashim Ansari (the original litigant in the matter), said: “I have received many calls from the press seeking confirmation about the stand of ‘UP Sunni Waqf Board’, about rumour of their withdrawal of the title suit in the case of Babri Masjid... at this stage, when today is the last day of hearing in the case... it is an unverified report as the Board has not made any such statement. But the action of the Chairman UP Sunni Central Waqf Board in the last two months has undergone a sea change.”

He said “this case is contested by six other Muslim parties in which Sunni Board is one party and it has no more locus than any other individual Muslim party. Every Muslim party is contesting the suit in the representative capacity of Muslims at large. This is a representative suit in terms of CPC. To withdraw such cases by whims and fancies of one individual party, may be the Board, is not possible at this stage without sending publication notice at large to the community members. Even otherwise, the other six parties are there to contest and present the case of Muslim community in their representative capacity, as permitted by the court. Hence, the stand of the Board will have no consequence. I must also clarify that masjid, graveyards and other Waqf remain Waqf irrespective of the existence of the Waqf Board.”

Maulana Arshad Madani, chief of the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, too said that the status of the Babri Masjid cannot be changed at any cost and no institution or individual has any authority to surrender or gift the mosque. In a statement, Madani said: “In the light of Sharia laws, Muslims have no right to change the status of the mosque as it always remains the place of worship till the day of judgment. Therefore, Muslims cannot surrender their claim on the mosque or transport it to another place.”

While the Sunni Waqf Board chairman has agreed to furnish a NOC for acquisition of land by the central government, the five conditions to be met for that NOC are also listed in the proposed “settlement”:

* The Places of Worship Act, 1991 to be strengthened and no other mosque to be claimed after this. The central government to satisfy the Supreme Court that it will “strengthen” the Act.
* A list of mosques from the Muslim side (Sunni Waqf Board) under the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is to be given to a court-appointed committee which, after approval from the Controller, ASI, would allow for resumption of namaz. Several mosques in ASI-controlled monuments do not allow namaz as they are decreed protected monuments, and this has been a source of friction in the Muslim community. The number of mosques is not specified in the “settlement”.
* Mosques in a state of disrepair in Ayodhya are to be repaired and refurbished by the central government.
* The Sunni Waqf Board would be free to build a mosque anywhere else in place of the demolished Babri Masjid, as the land of the demolished mosque would be acquired by the Centre.
* The institution for “social harmony”, the contours of which are not yet known, is proposed to be based in Ayodhya.

Dharam Das, one of the appellants from the Nirvani Akhara, has offered one lakh square feet of land they have in the town for the purpose. Puducherry’s Aurobindo Ashram also has land adjacent to the 67 acres acquired by the Centre in 1993 following the demolition of the mosque, and uses it for activities like meditation. It has formally offered the space to the nation if it helps settle the title suit. Letters from Dharam Das and Aurobindo Ashram are annexed to this proposed “settlement”.